By Jessie Mitnick, age 13
Recently, Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley and Georgia Representative Nikema Williams reintroduced the Abolition Amendment. The Abolition Amendment aims to revise the 13th Constitutional Amendment, which abolished slavery in the United States. These representatives are fighting a so-called loophole in the 13th Amendment, which allows for involuntary servitude to continue as a form of criminal punishment.
The Abolition Amendment was originally introduced in December 2020 but was unable to gain momentum. The amendment was reintroduced on June 17 this year, the same day that President Joe Biden signed legislation that made Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth is a holiday on June 19 that celebrates the end of slavery and marks when people in Galveston, Texas, found out that the 13th Amendment had passed and slavery in the United States was over. But incarcerated people in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas are still subject to unpaid labor. Additionally, their labor, the value of which is estimated to be around $2 million, benefits brands like Walmart, AT&T, Whole Foods and Victoria’s Secret.
Senator Jeff Merkley said, “As we take on the long and difficult challenge of rooting out systemic racism in our nation, ending the slavery loophole in the 13th Amendment is [a] critical step in that challenge.” It is notable that a disproportionate percentage of the prison population is Black. As of 2018, the imprisonment rate of Black males is 5.8 times more than the imprisonment rate of white males. Additionally, the imprisonment rate of Black females is 1.8 times greater than that of white females.
In order for the Abolition Amendment to be added to the Constitution, approval from at least three-quarters of state legislatures is necessary, after approval by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. While the amendment has gained support and has over a dozen cosponsors, none of these cosponsors are from the Republican Party. Republicans make up 49.07% of the House of Representatives, 50% of the Senate, and 54.27% of state legislatures.